Monday, August 13, 2007

"It's just hair"

Dear Anonymous, who left this post on my blog:

"ITS HAIR COLOR!!! people seriously need to get over it. I'm naturally dirty blonde. I've went brunette and I've went blonde. But honestly what does it matter folks?!??!?!?"

It matters. Ask any woman who has lost every strand of her hair to cancer and she will tell you: hair matters.

My mother lost all of her hair when she was battling breast cancer, about six months before I went undercover for this project. Her hair was naturally brown until Mom was in her forties. Then it started to gray and she started to visit the salon every six weeks to maintain her "natural hue." 20 years later, they found a lump. A few days later, she lost a breast. A few weeks later, she had her first chemo. Within days, all of my mother's carefully dyed hair was gone.

So, we shopped for wigs. "You could be blonde," the store-owner told us. "This might be your only chance to see what that's like." My mother looked at those wigs, perched suggestively on faceless dummy heads and laughed as though her as a blonde was the funniest thing in the world. She just wanted to feel like herself again. Our hearts leaped when we found the one, a wig the exact same shape as my mother's signature haircut in her "natural" color, almost the exact same dark brown. It cost almost as much as my weekly paycheck.

At first we were so excited! A chance to look normal in the midst all of that pain. We bought it instantly, my mom wrote a check. "The health insurance reimburses it by half," she said.

But wigs are hot underneath. They are itchy and uncomfortable and no substitute for real hair. She could only bear to wear it part of the time, when she had company, or had to leave the house. She was too tired to make the effort on ordinary Tuesdays.

Months later, my mother's hair grew back. It came in patchy clumps, weak and thin and tentative, as though still anticipating the devastating effects of chemo. It grew in a different color than her natural brown, reddish and strange and baby fine.

Years ago, I'd have thought you were right, Anonymous. I'd have stopped dying my hair, thrown in the towel and shut up. I never would have pursued this project, and listened to the many people like you for whom, after all, "it's just hair."

Then my mom lost all of hers. She was more upset by this than by the news of the cancer. Pain she could downplay, ignore, deny. But how do you ignore the fact that you're bald?

I was the only person besides my father to see my mom's bald head. It looked patchy, vulnerable, bare. I helped her cover it with wigs and swath it in scarves for 12 months. I helped her draw in her eyebrows with a pencil. We pretended it was the '40s, when women plucked out their eyebrow hair and drew them back in to be chic.

We are so lucky that those days ended. Three years later and my mom is still cancer free. Fine, hair covers her head all by itself again, though it's different than her hair from before.

Years ago, comments like yours might have stopped me, Anonymous. But after all of that, I just couldn't let my curiosity go. And I disagree.

Hair matters. A lot. Much more than you realize.


Anonymous said...

How can you POSSIBLY compare going from brunette to blonde with losing all of one's hair?

Of course hair is important- HAVING hair is important. Deciding on whether or not you're going to be blonde or brunette is completely superfluous (unless of course you're a cancer patient trying to match your own hair).

Kitty said...

Same anonymous, I take it? Nice to have you back!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Oh-so-brave Anonymous needs to relax and learn to enjoy the so-called "superfluous" choices we now have. And, if not enjoy them, then perhaps, erm, step down off the very SUPERFLUOUS soap box.

Noemie said...

I'm sorry your mother had to go through the pain of breast cancer. Cancer like AIDS is something I wouldn't even wish on my worst enemy. Glad to know she is cancer free now and much better. But I think anonymous meant hair color does not matter, at least it shouldn't. That is what she said, she didn't say hair itself does not matter. The truth is hair color does not define a person. I've posted a lot in your blog by now...I'm just repeating what I said over and